Even Marianne Moore disliked it.

American poet and writer Marianne Moore (1887–...
American poet and writer Marianne Moore (1887–1972). Photograph by George Platt Lynes (1907-1955). Gelatin silver, 22.8 x 17.7 cm. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First of all, thank you for this great discussion on value and viability of poetry that has been going on among us. I hope it continues. I thought today we’d put the discussion into, well a poem. And since I have not yet, and might never write one on this particular topic, and Marianne Moore has already been kind enough to provide one, let’s bring her into it.

This is her poem called “Poetry,” which it seems she has edited multiple times over the years. This version from 1924 is generally seen as the best draft. Her 1967  version just cut out everything but the first four lines, which makes it, to my mind, not much of a poem at all, no metaphor, no music… just a plain statement. I like it in this form.  I do think that her first line is meant to both get at some of us poetry lovers, and to make others feel more comfortable. But I think it’s a literary device. What do you think? Does she really dislike it? And not to sound like your tenth grade English teacher, but what does she dislike?  You can click right here to listen to Robert Pinsky read this poem (scroll down the page).


I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle.
*****Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers in
*****it, after all, a place for the genuine.
***********Hands that can grasp, eyes
***********that can dilate, hair that can rise
*****************if it must, these things are important not because a

high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because they are
*****useful. When they become so derivative as to become unintelligible
*****the same thing may be said for all of us, that we
***********do not admire what
***********we cannot understand: the bat
*****************holding on upside down or in quest of something to

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless wolf under
*****a tree, the immovable critic twitching his skin like a horse that feels a flea
*******************************************************the base-
*****ball fan, the statistician—
***********nor is it valid
*****************to discriminate against “business documents and

school-books”; all these phenomena are important. One must make a*******************************************distinction
*****however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the result is not
*****nor till the poets among us can be
***********“literalists of
***********the imagination”—above
*****************insolence and triviality and can present

for inspection, “imaginary gardens with real toads in them,” shall we have
*****it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand,
*****the raw material of poetry in
***********all its rawness and
***********that which is on the other hand
*****************genuine, you are interested in poetry.

********************************************—Marianne Moore

19 Replies to “Even Marianne Moore disliked it.”

  1. Dorothy Parker wrote a poem called “Oh, Look — I Can Do It Too (Showing That Anyone Can Write Modern Verse),” mocking the likes of her contemporaries Eliot and Pound. But I think this sums up a lot of people’s feelings about modern art in general. For many people, reading modern poetry is like looking at a canvas with paint thrown at it. “I could do that,” they say, or, “My kid could do that,” and, “Is that art?” and it loses all meaning. “It’s just a bunch of paint,” they say, or, “It’s just a bunch of words.” Anytime something looks haphazardly thrown together, people tend to dismiss it without trying to understand it. They would rather listen to Nancy Sinatra than read Marianne Moore.


    1. There is truth in that. People, even poets, are often lazy, and we go for what is comfortable, but I don’t want to blame it all on that. If artists lose their audience… I don’t know, I think we have some responsibility to help the reader along, although I am sure many would disagree with that.

      This direction for the discussion is perfect, by the way, because tomorrow I want to start discussing more on the what and why of poetry. Thank you for contributing. I am loving this, as if you couldn’t tell. 🙂


  2. ..Yes…and a lot of people , post Duchamp , have thrown paint at canvas and told us a pile of bricks on the ground is ‘art’ etc…in a banal way…which does not help the cause. And I do think many write ‘bunches’ of words…which deliver nothing to me but a failed poet….shallow thinker…To me Marianne Moore is a bit like Nancy Sinatra actually…even though I know she was a good friend and inspiration to one of my favourite poets…Elisabeth Bishop…The dimmer light can lead the way for the brighter one maybe…?


    1. My general philosophy is that 10% of everything is good. 10% of poetry, 10% of novels, movies, music, etc. The other 90% runs from passable to miserable. Having said that, when there are billions of poems, 10% is still quite a lot.


    2. I don’t disagree with you about Elizabeth Bishop being the greater poet. I still have not been able to wrap my mind around the idea of prose poetry, but I know there are many who probably disagree with me on that. Still, the more I learn about Moore, the more I am beginning to see a bit of Virginia Wolfe in her. I am currently reading (meaning I am about half way through) a fascinating article by Kay Ryan about Moore’s style of building up, rather than moving forward. Very interesting. http://www.cstone.net/~poems/essakrya.htm


  3. More than anything, I like that this poem shows that poets will always question their place in the world. Defend it, ponder it. For any poet who sits alone at their writing desk thinking “what am I doing this for?” Marianne Moore has shown us that we are not alone. Perhaps we do it for each other, aside from the fact that we must.

    Enjoyed the post. thanks -D


  4. Yes…well I typed Elizabeth…but we have a diff spelling correction thing this side of the pond. (sometimes) …..and thus the s…..this does not detract however…from my love of her work…!


    1. As for spelling, I don’t think we need to nit pick about an occasional typo, especially, as you say with the Ireland/UK/US differences among us. It seems sometimes that we truly are, as they say, “separated by a common language.”


  5. I like this, and, I like your post about the dislike of poetry. I have struggled with all the things you’ve mentioned, especially the feeling like you’re an idiot if you don’t understand it. I’ve always thought of myself as someone who’s smarter than the average person, yet, most poetry leaves me feeling like I’m dumber than dirt. Life has enough struggles and drama, so why would I want to sit down and relax with something that’s more stressful than relaxing.


  6. I just found this tonight on the Poetry Foundation site. In Moore’s own words to the New York Times: “I don’t call anything I have ever written poetry. In fact, the only reason I know for calling my work poetry at all is that there is no other category in which to put it. I’m a happy hack as a writer. . . . I never knew anyone with a passion for words who had as much difficulty in saying things as I do. I seldom say them in a manner I like. Each poem I think will be the last. But something always comes up and catches my fancy.”


    1. Who says my poems are poems?
      My poems are not poems.
      When you know that my poems are not poems,
      Then we can speak of poetry!

      –Ryokan (1758-1831)
      –trans. by John Stevens

      Reminded me of this 8>}


    1. Oh you should hear how I go on sometimes about poets! Not always nicely. You at least are a class act when you don’t enjoy a certain kind of poet. 🙂


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